Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Dead Zone

ONE

Sugianto was facing Anna and his closeness made the Guardian shudder. He smiled and then slowly began to circle her as he shared what he knew of the first Guardian.

“My first contact with Anna Grayson came to me over the years that I spent with her mother, another incurable lost cause like myself, locked away in the dungeons of Drogo. The Captain of the Crimson Guard only moved her to the upper floors above the dungeons when her husband or the Chancellor of Castlewood came to visit her, but unbeknownst to the both of them… she was always returned in chains to her cell and to the pit we shared after they left.”

Sugianto finished his first circle and stared into Anna’s eyes. “She always blamed her husband for the Captain’s ill-treatment of her,” he said with a smile, before continuing to circle again.

“Victoria Grayson would speak to me for hours. In fact, she spoke to no one else but me through the enchanted doors that held us apart and prisoners for so many years.” He looked to Voldemort. “We found we had many things in common.”

“My mother had nothing in common with you,” Anna growled over her shoulder at him.

Sugianto stopped to smile again and then leaned in to whisper into her ear. “Oh but we did, child. Far more than you know.” He stepped back and then continued his casual stroll.

“We talked at length about our dreams… and more importantly… the needs that remained unfulfilled within us. She called me my kind, due in part because our past had been written upon the same page of life and in blood to explain the creatures we had become. The Crimson Guard is very careful to only give us enough blood to survive, but not enough to see our strengths returned. And what their ignorance left behind was cruelty personified. To the point where every waking moment of our existence, and even those that endured in our dreams, was immersed in the blood lust, of hunting in the a forest like this one, or better yet… in a city full of Muggles,” he raised his hands wide, “with fountains of flowing blood everywhere.”

He stopped to stare into Anna’s blackened again. “In a way… your mother and I fed off each other.” He shrugged. “Not physically, of course, but we did share our dreams of freedom and of stalking fresh prey. We offered each other what we could of ourselves when there was nothing left of us but our delusions to impart.” He turned again.

“She told me about her husband and how he had promised to care for her. Unfortunately, she was taken with the idea that he had abandoned her to the Captain’s vision of justice…” he looked back at Voldemort and sneered, “when he locked the both of us in hell.

“Eventually, I came to realize that I was conversing with more than one person in the dungeon cell opposite my own. There was Victoria Grayson, of course, but then there was another who’s only remaining ambition was to rejoin her master… to return to her Dark Lord…” he looked at Voldemort and smiled, “to be with you, Tom.”

Sugianto looked up at the moon rising over their heads. “This was our existence in the place we were abandoned by our family…” he looked again at Voldemort and sneered, “and our friends.

“And then, one night, we had an unexpected visitor in the dungeons.” He stopped to stare at Anna again. “She was young, wonderfully courageous, but severely weakened… for she had obviously journeyed through the most hideous planes of hell to get to us, levels that would have made Dante himself shrink in fear. She had risked everything to come to us, seeking the truth about her mother, only to face the last remaining sentinel to our locked doors: The Eternal Flames of Nouméa.”

Anna frowned, the flames of Nouméa? She looked at Voldemort and could tell the Dark Lord was captivated by Sugianto’s tale.

“At the beginning I thought her journey’s success was given only to luck, a number of half-witted guards leaving absent their most important duties. What else could explain her incredible success at making it down into the Dungeons of Drogo undetected? For my part, I was given little time to contemplate the possibilities, because the flames had already given the girl the first of what would be two questions meant to test her sanity and then her resolve to approach our enchanted doors alone.

“Unluckily, the exhaustion brought on by her journey, to do something nobody else in wizard history had dared to attempt, actually required my helping her with the first question, but her answer to the second question impressed me and… more importantly… it also swayed Nouméa. In fact, the Eternal Flames were so rapt by her that, to my astonishment, they actually allowed her passage without the usual announcements in the corridors above us.” He looked at Anna and frowned. “Even the guards entering the halls properly will hear the bells sound.”

Voldemort stepped forward, “As fascinating as might be, old friend, I am most interested in how she was finally able to enter her mother’s cell.”

Sugianto smiled back at him. “Oh, but my Lord vends my story short of its full reward to think so. For you see… once she entered the dungeon hall, she displayed something even more sublime than all of the skill used to journey to us that night.” He turned to look at Anna once more. “As it turned out… she wasn’t alone in the dungeon hall after all.”

Voldemort frowned. “There was another? And who was it that had joined her on this quest?”

Sugianto looked back. “A very good question, old friend, for I never heard the voice of the other to whom she was speaking, but she was conversing with them nonetheless.”

Anna’s eyes widened. The vampire was relating her conversation with the magic within the walls of Drogo and the voices that had assisted her passage in.

“As near as I could tell, she had something of a mentor by her side, something or someone unseen other than within her own mind… but there nevertheless. It was helping her to use whatever magic was necessary to pass through her mother’s enchanted door, and then to fool her mother into thinking she was our kind, and then to escape Victoria’s all-consuming need to feed when she realized her daughter was not our sister in darkness.

“Since my escape, I have made a study of the girl. I’ve used the Imperius Curse on her friend to finally discover the evidence that illuminates what she is more than anything else given us by history.” He looked at Voldemort and could tell this was the moment his the Dark Lord had been waiting for, why he had traveled all that way to meet with him.

Sugianto turned to look at Anna once again and said, “I believe this Guardian, the first in several centuries, the one the others have come to call Sithmaith, has the power to converse with magic itself.”

Voldemort fell back, looking immensely pleased by Sugianto’s conclusions, because it seemed to fit so well with what he saw within Anna Grayson’s mind while probing her memories.

Sugianto watched Tom Riddle’s reaction careful and quickly recognized his friend’s satisfaction. “And now, Tom, I have fulfilled my pledge to you. I have delivered the girl and more… I have delivered her most important secret to you.”

Sugianto turned to face Voldemort. “You left me in that prison to die even after all we shared in life together, Tom. We were equals in all things then and now; partners in your plans for Muggle enslavement and mine for feeding. I wish to wash in the blood of Muggles freely again. Equal in all things… this is what we imagined before my time in Drogo.”

Voldemort sneered again. “Equal in all things, Arief?” He laughed at him. “You have served your purpose well, my old friend, but I believe our friendship has finally come to an end.” He raised his wand at him. “You were a good and faithful servant… even if you did not understand that was your role all along.”

Sugianto hissed at Voldemort and in less than a blink of an eye he was almost upon the Dark wizard with claws and deadly fangs. In a flash, Voldemort disappeared in a burst of blackened ash only to reappear a second later holding Sugianto off his feet by the throat. He was still laughing.

“Surely, you did not expect I would forget all your old tricks, my most deadly friend?” He tossed the vampire easily to the side as if swatting away an annoying fly. Sugianto was on his feet again and moving fast. Within a second, he was into to the neck of one of the Death Eaters.

“Ahhhhh!”

Voldemort never stopped smiling as he finally raised his wand, “Avada Kedavra!”

A blast of horrible light split the air and hit both the Death Eater and Sugianto at once. The two fell together with Sugianto’s jaws still locked into the veins of the other. Both were dead.

Voldemort casually walked over and used his foot to shove his friend over onto his back. The vampire’s eyes were set wide in shock at his own sudden death.

“We were never equal, Arief; no more now than ever when we were young.” He turned to face Anna again, still looking somewhat amused.

Anna tried to remain calm. “You’ve killed so many of your own tonight and sent three more to die at Castlewood. It’s a wonder why they obey you at all.”

Voldemort’s expression fell. “It’s no wonder, child. They obey me because they fear a painful death by my hand. It will be no different with you.”

“So why haven’t you killed me yet? I will never obey you; you know that already. What do you want from me?”

“Ah… we finally come to it; very good, and as it is… extremely timely. For you see, I have an important event I must attend to in London tonight.” He paused and then, “I will make you one offer to join me, to pledge whatever abilities you have to my needs, and to stand side by side with your mother in my glory to come.”

“I will never join you. You’re a monster!”

“Ah… bravery, but don’t answer so quickly, Guardian, because more than your life is at stake in your reply tonight.” We waved his wand again and Anna watched in horror as Gwen and TJ’s wilted bodies were lifted into the air. “Shall I revive them first, so their deaths will be more horrific? Think about it. Why should they die? And why should you die after watching them suffer, when you can join me and live?”

Anna couldn’t respond. Fear had muted her ability to speak.

“So be it.” He waved his wand again.

“Rennervate! Crucio!

Instantly, the air was filled with the screams of Anna’s friends. Gwen and TJ couldn’t know what was happening to them – to be awakened out of being stupefied only to be thrown into the horrors of torture. Voldemort was bearing his teeth as he twisted his wand down at them.

“Stop it!” Anna screamed and Voldemort immediately lowered his wand and watched the two girls fall to the ground, crying.

“I will have your final answer, Guardian.”

Anna was sobbing with her friends. What should she do? She couldn’t join with Voldemort, to become a slave to his ambitions, and then forced to destroy her father and Thordarson and Dumbledore. It was impossible, but she couldn’t stand by and watch her friends suffer and die in preparation of her own death. Anna fell to her knees and sank her hands into the leaf-littered dirt surrounding her. She wanted to hear the voices of magic once again; what should she do? If they commanded her to give up her life and the lives of the other Guardians, would she do it? She clawed the soil, listening intently, but the voices did not come to her and she immediately thought she understood why. The final choice was hers to decide and hers alone to bear. She looked up and saw TJ and Gwen trying to get up, trying to understand what was happening to them.

“Your hesitancy has delivered your decision, Guardian,” Voldemort said, stoically, “but you take to your grave the knowledge that you have disappointed me. Such a shame… I could have put your abilities to very good use.”

Gwen and TJ looked up in time to see Voldemort lowing his wand down at them.

“Avada…”

“NO!” Suddenly, Sarah Bell was crashing into Voldemort’s legs and sent him tumbling over to the ground. The Dark Lord screamed in rage, as she snatched Sarah up by the back of her robes and threw her across the clearing. A second later, John Dell was there as well, blasting one of the Death Eaters off his feet.

“Anna! Run!” John yelled, as he quickly turned to face Voldemort and took aim. He fired and the Dark Lord easily blocked his curse.

Voldemort looked furious. “Avada Kedav…”

“NO!” Anna screamed, raising her hands unthinkingly. At once she sent a blast of energy across the gap that smashed into Voldemort’s chest. It exploded in a flash of purple light that sent the wizard flying into the trees.

“Kill them all!” Anna heard him scream and the remaining Death Eaters moved forward.

Anna fired a blast at one of the Death Eaters who dove to get away while another masked wizard pointed his wand down at Gwen who was still unconscious on the ground.

“Gwen!”

There was a loud screech in the darkness somewhere overhead and the Death Eater looked up just in time to scream. A huge dragon hit the ground with a thundering KA-BOOM and crushed the man flat under one enormous, clawed foot. The beast raised its head skyward to let lose an ear-splitting shriek.

The rest of the Death Eaters began firing killing curses over their heads and launched themselves into the darkness within plums of black smoke. Curses were being fired everywhere and dragons the size elephants began falling out of the sky.

Anna ran forward and waved a hand over her friends. “Rennervate!”

She helped the two girls stand and pushed them toward the trees. “Gwen — TJ — RUN!” Remarkably, Gwen sill had her wand and began firing hex after hex at the masked wizards.

“No Gwen, just run!”

A flash of red light smashed into Gwen’s back and she collapsed as TJ dove into the trees to take cover. The Death Eater who had hexed Gwen set upon her again, looking to finish the Guardian off. He pointed his wand down just as another dragon snatched the man off his feet in its powerful jaws. Another killing curse was sent after the dragon over the trees behind her and there was a screech of pain and a crash somewhere deep in the woods.

Anna looked up to find Voldemort sending angry curses into the air and dragons began falling down all around him, their bodies smashing and spilling out everywhere. She looked over to find John Dell unconscious on his back, or was he dead? Even after everything Anna had already lived through, the sight of her friend and the carnage sickened her.

Stop! Anna’s mind screamed, as two more dragons, still growing from the killing curses that stopped their hearts, began crashing into trees. A smaller bull and then an enormous female crashed behind her in the forest. There was another and then another; they were screaming in pain and crashing all around her.

“Stop this!” She screamed, and Voldemort wheeled around and pointed his wand. Another killing curse was headed right for her and there was nothing she could do. The Guardian had barely closed her eyes when another, much smaller dragon suddenly appeared to block the curse from killing her. It hit the dragon in the chest and Anna screamed, “NO!” at his sacrifice to save her. The curse sent the dragon crashing into the woods, but to Anna’s astonishment, it immediately picked itself up again and ran back into the clearing to stand by her side. It raised its wings high and screeched angrily at the Dark Lord.

Anna couldn’t believe her eyes. How could he have survived the killing curse? And then she saw the answer embedded in the dragon’s chest. There were small pieces of gold and silver there and right in its center was a very large ruby. The gem was still smoldering and crackling within a green cloud where it had deflected the killing hex. Anna’s eyes widened. She looked up at the dragon again and recognized him immediately.

“Taurus!”

The young bull’s head twisted to the side to look at her and he barked back happily just as another curse crackled through the air toward the two of them. Taurus leapt up and threw out his chest and Anna screamed.” The curse hit the ruby again and instantly bounced away and smashed into Anna’s middle.

She barely heard Sarah’s voice scream her name , “Anna!” as the curse lifted her off her feet and sent her flying into the forest.

“Anna!”

Pain like nothing Anna had ever experienced smashed into her; a ball of fire slicing into her belly and exploding within. The Guardian was hurled through the air even as the inferno tore into her guts and seared her soul.

“Ahhhhhhhh!” Anna screamed as the green flames working to consume her illuminated her death for the world to see.

Amazed to find herself still alive, Anna sat up to find the front of her robes still smoldering. There was another dying scream, another dragon falling somewhere in the trees behind her.

Oh God! Was that Taurus!

The Guardian tried to stand, but the pain in her center was unbearable. She dropped to her knees before looking up in pain. She could see a number of dragons chasing the Death Eater’s ashen trails through the moonlight. Killing curses where flying everywhere.

“This has to stop…” she moaned, clutching her stomach.

Another dragon, already dead and glowing within the aftermath of a killing curse, fell to her right. The earth seemed to lift in the air under Anna as the creature’s heavy body flattened several massive trees next to her.

“This will stop!” She raised a hand and fired another hex of purple light at one of the Death Eaters overhead. She missed badly. She heard Taurus screeching once more in the clearing, barely visible now through the trees. She saw a glimpse of TJ running through the woods and ducking as another curse smashed into a boulder next to her. Suddenly, a red stunning spell smashed into her side and she fell.

Anna’s anger boiled over. All the torture she had endured, all the pain coursing through her body in that moment forced her finally stand. She had to stop this. She raised her arms skyward and summoned all the magic she could find encircling her. Her mind reached for it; the power all around her everywhere. Her mind stretched out to snatch it from the trees, the rocks, the wind, the lair and every spell crisscrossing above her. She drew it all in and could hear several voices coming into her mind at once.

“You must escape, Sentinel. Run!”

“But my friends—they’re in danger. He’s going to kill them all!”

“You should not be here! You must not take sides in the battle to come. You are Sithmaith, the one sent to stop the chaos! You must escape!”

“I won’t let my friends die!” Another dragon crashed into the forest on her left. The Guardian seethed in anger. “I must stop his!”

“Yes, Sithmaith, stop it before all is destroyed. Call unto us and we will come to you. Stop the chaos!”

Anna opened her arms wide closed her eyes. “Then come…”

“She has been altered from what was intended. Háztartási alkalmazott mágikus, szép lány”

Anna could see a pair of eyes looking down at her within her mind, a wizard’s eyes that seemed to zoom into her stare and then there was a faint whisper, “Sithmaith. The rage within the world is building, how will you protect us? Call unto us.”

“Come to me,” Anna beckoned. “Let me protect you from the ravages of chaos!” The words seemed to flow out of her, spoken by so few before that night. “We will stop this madness…”

“The Sentinel is calling. We will come! We will be as one!” repeated a thousand voices in union all around her. Sensing her urgently, the magic from every place and point for miles around that place in the forest rushed in to fill her body.

“We are part of the community your protectors seek to serve,” the Guardian continued, “come to me.”

Anna feel to her knees as everything that was magical was drawn into her, all the spells, all the curses and hexes flying between her and the moon began to disintegrate, their mysterious elements turning and heading downward, drawn to her call. Every magical creature surrounding her could suddenly feel some part of them leaving their bodies, and as the magic within was drained away, they stopped their attack and turned to escape. They could feel their strength leaving them as they headed back to the lair.

Anna could feel the power flowing into her body, and as it did an enormous heaviness began burning her from the inside like the killing curse that should have destroyed her. More and more magic was drawn into her body as the Sithmaith fell to the ground and opened her mouth to scream.

Enough! Anna thought. Please… I can’t...!

Even more of the things they called magic was speeding inward from everywhere and for miles all around in every direction. It flowed into her, burning her bones in torture and boiling her blood. Her eyes suddenly flew open; they turned black and then white.

“Oh God… enough… pleeeeeaaasseee!”

“Fear not, Sithmaith. We serve you now like no other since the falcon flew among your kind, and you will turn what has been done to you against this madness. The beasts, creatures, places, and the things of magic are now within you and you with us. What is within you must be sacrificed and surrender to chaos to save the greater whole.”

“Please… no more… it’s too much…”

Anna’s entire body, her face, even the clothing she was wearing began to glow white hot as the magic within burned what was left of her sanity away entirely. She was nothing now but a shell, a vessel holding everything they called magic that surrounded them.

“We surrender to the madness… so that the whole remains intact. This sacrifice returns what is to the dust of creation. Now… Sithmaith… now!”

Anna head was thrown back as she screamed out, “ENOUGH!”

A ring of energy was suddenly blasted away from her, expelled in every direction in a wave of purple light. It traveled through the clearing and for miles all around, through the Cliffs of Knowtor and beyond before finally dissipating in a howl of blinding wind. And within that wave there came a primordial scream of pain only the Sithmaith recognized. She immediately knew that whatever portions of magic had entered into her were now gone forever; lost to the madness bought by two sides locked in battle, a magical sacrifice never to be recovered; a message to all that everything created by God could be lost forever.

Anna fell to the ground and lay there shaking and shuddering within the coldness of utter defeat and loss. She searched her mind for the voices, but they were no longer there. All was quiet both within her mind and throughout the forest surrounding her. The fighting had stopped, the dragons were gone, and chaos had finally ended. She heard something stirring in the trees to her right and opened her eyes to see TJ rising to stand. The girl looked over at Anna and smiled.

“Anna… oh my God, yer’ alive!” She ran over and fell to Anna’s side and turned her onto her back. “But I thought…” she hesitated, “you was hit by a killin’ curse.” She stared down at her disbelievingly. “I mean… I thought I saw ya hit, didn’t I?”

Anna was crying. The pain of loss immediately filling the void left by the expulsion magic everywhere. She covered her face and whined, “Gone! It’s all gone! They did it for us!”

TJ frowned. “Who did? Anna… girl what’in blazing is you talkin’ about?”

Anna tried to sit up, but she needed TJ’s help. The emptiness she could feel all around her was like a vacuum trying to pull her head apart. “It’s all gone. My God — NO! What have I done?”

“What’s gone?” TJ replied, pulling Anna to get to her feet.

Anna looked at her. “Can’t you sense it? Can’t you tell?”

“Honey… I donno… you’r talkin’ crazy, girl. Ya musta’ hit yer head.”

Anna winced at a sharp stab of pain in her stomach and looked at her friend. “Did Voldemort and the Death Eaters leave? Have you seen Gwen and Sarah?”

TJ raised her wand and looked toward the clearing. “Naw… I don’t think anybody’s left.”

“Come on,” Anna said, taking TJ by the hand and pulling her forward.

They moved cautiously together until they entered the clearing where dozens of dragons were lying dead all around them. One Death Eater lay unconscious on the ground and a second was struggling to eradicate his body from a tangle of vines high in a tree. He saw them below and raised his wand.

“Stupefy!” He yelled and Anna stared back knowingly as TJ raised her wand in response; nothing happened. The wizard frowned and then looked at his wand, mystified.

“A valiant battle, Guardian, but nothing has changed,” came a shrilling voice behind them and Anna and TJ whipped about to find Voldemort stepping out of the forest with his wand outstretched. His eyes were blazing. “You have made your decision, senseless as it is, and I remain to insure you pay for your absence of vision.” He stretched out his hand and Anna stared him down.

“Avada Kedavra!”

Anna closed her eyes and waited for the rushing hex to steal her breath away. She held her breath as if to keep it from being taken from her, the final defiant act against the Dark Lord’s malevolence.

I curse you, Tom Riddle, Anna thought, with my final breath… I curse you!

She waited for it, and waited, but nothing happened. Anna slowly opened her eyes again and found the Dark Lord frowning down at his wand.

TJ was quick to respond. She pointed her wand back at him and, “Stupefy!” Again… nothing happened.

“Stupefy—Stupefy!”

Still, there was no response from the girl’s wand. TJ looked at Anna and shook her head. “Anna… my wand! It ain’t workin’!”

Anna looked at Voldemort once more and could see surprise had fallen upon him once again. He looked around, as if trying to find something to explain why, for the first time in more than fifty years, magic had not obeyed his will.

Anna searched her mind again for the voices. The strange silence within her was deafening; they no longer answered her call. There was an odd deadness that seemed to hang within the very air they breathed and that’s when she realized with great shock.

“It’s gone,” she whispered.

“What…?” TJ said, jerking back.

Anna looked at her. “Magic,” she said in wonder, “it’s not here… not for miles all around us, near as I can tell.”

TJ looked around in surprise. “My God… whatta’ we do?”

Anna looked up at the Dark Lord with angry disgust. “We relish in it!”

She stepped toward Voldemort and watched his eyes widen in disbelief.

“Murderer!” she hissed. “Now you will pay for all your treachery!” She suddenly ran at him, bearing her fangs.

Still unwilling to believe what was obvious, Voldemort only grinned as he brought his wand around, but when the spell brought forth within his mind didn’t work, his face contorted as he shouted it out.

“Avada Kedavra!”

Anna was almost upon him when he turned quickly to backhand her across the face. “DO NOT DARE TO HOPE THIS BATTLE IS OVER, GIRL!”

The blow staggered her, but was completely lacking anything magical that would have kept her at bay. A second later the Guardian flew into Voldemort’s body, sending him flying backward into a tree. His body was slammed hard and dropped to the ground in shock. Staggered, the man who would be the most powerful wizard ever to live quickly rose quickly again but remained defiant.

“You and yours will be sacrificed for the sake of a new world, a world where my will is supreme!” he yelled.

Anna hissed back at him again. “Only if you survive the night, my Dark Lord!” she growled. She crouched low, looking to pounce on him. “Without your wand, wizard, you are nothing but an old man.”

She could see the anger blooming in his dead, snake-like eyes. Suddenly, Anna was struck in the back as one of the surviving Death Eaters dove into her body. The two of them rolled over and over before the Guardian grabbed him by the face with a clawed hand, turned, and then heaved the man at Voldemort.

The Dark Lord casually moved to the side and watched his minion disappear into the forest behind him. There was a sickening thud somewhere in the darkness and then silence. There was another thud behind Anna and she whipped around to see a second Death Eater standing stiff, as if petrified with a knife in his hand, his eyes were wide with shock. He slowly began to fall forward and Anna stepped aside as he slammed into the dirt on his front.

Gwen was standing behind him with a branch in her hands like a Beater’s bat. She looked up at Anna and scowled. “He was going to stab you in the back!”

Anna didn’t answer. She quickly turned again looking for Voldemort, but he had disappeared.

“Where are you, old man?” she shouted.

At first there was only silence and then she heard his whispered voice somewhere in the darkness.

“You have sided against me in battle… Guardian, and you and yours will never be forgiven this lack of vision.”

Anna closed her eyes and listened hard, honing in on his words coming out of the forest. She found her own magical abilities could still sense his presence… he was still very close.

“I can still hear your heart beating, old man,” she growled, hatefully, “and I mean to put a stop to it!”

And then from behind her, his whispers returned, “You are most impressive, Guardian; more so than I ever could have imagined, and I must admit you have somehow put me at a disadvantage tonight.” She heard him heave a heavy sigh. “After all these years… I would have never that thought it possible.”

“Show yourself, Tom Riddle,” Anna fired back. “Show me the man you really are without all your dark magic to protect you.”

“Yes… you are most impressive.” He paused and then, “But you see… Lord Voldemort doesn’t need magic to warrant his desires.”

Suddenly, Anna could see his red eyes blooming once more in the darkness in front of her.

“I must leave you now, Anna Grayson, and return to my own country. The prophecies regarding my future are soon to be delivered and I wish to be there in person when finally they are surrendered.”

Anna stepped toward the red eyes within the darkness and then stopped abruptly when she saw another set of fangs below them.

“Oh my God,” Anna whispered.

From out of the darkness, a beautiful woman with red hair and skin as white as bone stepped out, and the sight of her instantly made Anna’s voice tremble in fright.

“Mother…”

Victoria Grayson moved into the clearing to glare at her, as the Dark Lord laughed somewhere in the darkness around them.

“I would love to stay to watch this family reunion, but alas I now know that I must travel far enough away from this place to get home. Goodbye, Anna Grayson,” Voldemort said finally, and in a fading voice from a distance he added, “Kill her!”

FOUR

The Guardians could hear the woman growling at them. “Mother… you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to obey that madman,” Anna said, pleadingly.

Victoria stared at her and then replied in a high, shrilling voice. “Your mother is not here, child. Only I … the Dark Lord’s devoted servant, remain.”

The woman started to sway side to side, as Anna started to sob. She couldn’t stop herself. Her own mother was standing right in front of her, but the other that shared her body still ruled over her soul like the devil. Gwen and TJ were suddenly by Anna’s side.

“My God, Anna. Is that… really your mother? Is that Victoria Grayson,” Gwen whispered, uncertainly.

Anna looked at her friend and shook her head, her tears burning her eyes. She remembered her father’s practiced advice to defend herself if ever she saw her mother again. “Not really… not anymore.” She looked back to the vampire swaying and Anna shuttered.

“We should form a circle… we have to protect ourselves.”

The other two obeyed, setting their backs together, but never taking their eyes off the creature that smiled as she swayed hypnotically.

Anna glanced over to see John Dell still lying unconscious behind them near the edge of the clearing. “Does anybody know where Sarah is?”

“She took a good bump on the head and is sleepin’ if off,” TJ answered quickly, “I got’er tucked away nice in’ safe in the forest behind John.”

“Good,” Anna whispered back. She looked at the creature again. “Try not to look into the vampire’s eyes,” Anna told them.

“What — again? Another vampire?” TJ answered, fearfully. “What’d the heck we do? Smoke outa’ nest?”

“Warn your friends all you want, child, but what my master has commanded shall be given him. Make no mistake… his word is done!”

Anna raised her palms like claws at the woman who used to be her mother.

Voldemort’s servant giggled evilly and Anna shuttered again. She could almost hear those cackles echoing from out of the dungeons of Drogo.

TJ leaned into her to whisper. “Anna… I wuz always told yer’ mother wuz dead. I… had no idea. I’m so sorry, girl. What should we do if’n she… you know…?”

With tears still rolling down her face, Anna snapped around to look at her friend. “Don’t even hesitate, TJ. If she attacks — you protect yourself anyway you can!” She looked at her mother again and sniffed.

Gwen sighed. “Are you sure, Anna?”

Anna nodded. “No matter who she was in life… she’s now a Death Eater first, and she won’t hesitate to kill you if she gets the chance.”

“Sweet Jesus…” TJ moaned.

“But our wands aren’t working… what can we do?” Gwen asked her, gripping her club tight.

The vampire was still swaying provocatively side to side and Anna watched as the woman’s gaze darkened.

“Anything you can… to survive,” Anna sighed back.

Anna crouched low, her palms out. “Get ready… she’s very fast; don’t be taken by surprise.”

She could feel the muscles in TJ’s back stiffen and Gwen began to tremble, but Anna felt something else as well. From the moment she stepped back into the clearing to face Voldemort again she could feel there was something left within her body after magic’s expulsion. Not enough to escape, but maybe just enough to protect her friends should the vampire attack.

She also knew something that perhaps this Death Eater did not; something she sensed the moment the vampire began her swaying movements. From her own experience with the creature at Drogo and then within her studies since her return, Anna knew vampires were both physically powerful and highly magical as well. Certainly, Sugianto’s story of using a wand to transfigure the dead body of Reginald Carter to help his escape and again to cast a forbidden curse on Sarah Bell had proven that fact without question. She had also seen with her own eyes how her mother could transfigure into something resembling mist within Drogo. And yet, as the vampire swayed to project her influence upon them, Anna could feel there was something missing within her. The powerfully hypnotic trance that came with being the creature she had become didn’t seem to be working.

“Come to me… child. Do not be afraid. I would never hurt you… come to your mother,” the vampire purred. “Let me hold you in my arms again.”

“What’s she doing?” Gwen asked her.

“Don’t move and don’t look into her eyes,” Anna replied quickly. She turned to the creature again and took a step forward.

“You would allow my mother embrace me?”

The creature continued to sway. “Of course, my child, you can be together again… just come to me.”

“But you just told me my mother was no longer with you.”

The vampire glided forward. “Feel her loving embrace.”

Anna’s anger spiked. She’s lying.

“Come and take your mother into your arms, child. She’s waiting for you.”

“Let me speak to Victoria first,” Anna demanded.

“Come to me…”

Anna sneered. “My name is Anna Grayson! I am the daughter of Victoria Grayson, the one being held captive within you. I command that you to release her!”

“What the hell’s she doin’?” TJ whispered to Gwen.

“Mother… I love you. Can you hear me?”

The vampire hissed back at her. “You command nothing here, child!”

“Victoria Grayson… listen to me. I am your daughter, Anna Grayson… and I love you. Can you hear me?”

The eyes of the Death Eater suddenly widened in unexpected horror. She could feel Victoria beginning to stir at the sound of her child’s name deep within her mind once again.

The creature suddenly grabbed the sides of her head and screamed, “NO!”

Anna stepped closer again and yelled, “I am Anna Grayson, the daughter of Victoria Grayson. Mother… can you hear me?”

The Dark Lord’s servant took a step back. “She is no more, child. Your mother is dead!”

Anna could see the pain in the woman’s tortured face as her lies spilled out in a rush. The servant was struggling as if to keep from being sick.

“I am Anna Grayson. Mother… I love you. Hear me!”

A powerful force within the Death Eater was intensifying and rising with every passing second.

“NO! Our master has command us — we must obey!” The woman shrieked madly, pulling her hair and clawing her face.

“Mother… I am Anna Grayson. I love you, mother… I love you!”

The Death Eater looked down at her and her eyes flashed wickedly. She suddenly rushed forward. “I will kill you for my master and drink you blood!”

Whatever magical speed the vampire thought to possess failed her and two bolts of purple lightening suddenly shot from Anna hands to strike the woman square in the chest.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” the thing shrieked as it flew back and landed hard in the dirt. She scrambled to her feet again and hissed through her fangs.

“Stupefy—Stupefy—Stupefy!” Gwen yelled, jerking her wand forward again and again but nothing happened. “Damn it!”

Anna began coming forward. “My name is Anna. Victoria Grayson… I am calling you! I love you!” Anna said, taking aim at the creature again.

“NO — NO — NO!” The woman shrieked. She fell to the ground once more and rolled back and forth, holding her head and then tearing at her robes. “Stay away — STAY AWAY!”

Anna stood over the woman. “I love you, mother. Your daughter still loves you.” She bent down over the creature and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Anna… what are you doing?” Gwen yelled out. She raised her club. “Don’t touch her!”

Anna leaned in close. “I love you, mother. Do you hear me? I love you.” She rolled the woman’s body over and looked down into her quiet face. She looked beautiful to her daughter, so innocent, so perfect is quiet slumber.

Suddenly, the woman’s eyes flew open. They were blood-red, angry and eager to deliver the death demanded of her. She came forward quickly, baring her fangs at Anna neck and was stopped instantly in her daughter’s grip around her throat.

“Awk — argh — gak!” the thing choked

Anna’s hand was engulfed in a haze of purple light as she came forward to whisper into the struggling creature’s ear once again. “My name is Anna Grayson… I am the daughter of Victory Grayson. You will let my mother go or I swear I’ll squeeze the life out of you right here and now. Victoria is my mother… and I love her. Victoria… do you hear me?”

“Gak — gasp — awk.” The creature began to writhe in the Guardian’s strangling grip. In desperation, she brought up a clawed hand to Anna’s face, but it was suddenly caught and pinned to the ground. TJ and Gwen were suddenly by Anna’s side, holding the woman down.

Anna continued to whisper to her, “I am your daughter, Anna Grayson. I love you, mother.”

The woman stopped struggling and Anna finally released her. “I love you.”

Victoria began to shake and shudder and then rolled to her side as a series of spasms shivered through her entire body.

Anna lovingly stroked the woman’s gray hair. She had longed for this moment for almost a year. “I still love you, mother.”

Victoria rolled over and looked up. Her eyes scanned through the dark canopy above them before refocusing upon her daughter smiling down at her.

“Anna?”

“Yes, mother… it’s me.”

“Am I dreaming?” she said, raising a hand to touch her daughter’s face.

“No mother, it’s really me.” Anna looked at her friends. “Get her go…”

“Are you sure, Anna?” Gwen asked her.

Anna began to sob, but nodded and Gwen and TJ reluctantly stood up.

Victoria looked around again. “The Dark Lord’s servant…” she mumbled fearfully.

“She was here, but I forced her to release you.”

Her mother looked worried and Anna watched her closely as her attention seemed to draw itself inward. “She’s very angry. Oh my…” She looked at Anna again, “angry and afraid… and still… very dangerous.”

“Voldemort ordered her to kill us.”

Victoria cringed at the name. “No…”

“It’s alright, mother. He’s gone now. It’s just me and my friends.”

Victoria pushed herself upright and then Anna helped her to stand. The woman immediately grabbed the sides of her head in pain.

“Ohhhh… the other is so angry. She blames me for the Dark Lord’s tortures.”

Anna sniffed and then wiped the tears from her eyes. “I know all about his tortures, mother.”

Victoria looked at her daughter and then down at the burns on her robes. Her face fell into a grimace.

“Oh… my dear, sweet child.” She reached out and took Anna into her arms and hugged her. “I am sorry, Anna. I tried so hard to keep them away from you.”

Anna hugged her mother back and cried in her arms. “It was so terrible… I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you.”

Victoria’s eyes widened as she stared into the darkness to remember. “Days and days without end,” she answered her. “I’m so sorry, Anna. I should have let him kill me, but he’s so powerful. He’s just so…”

Anna nodded her understanding in her mother’s arms. “I know, mother. I know.”

Victoria shuddered and then heaved a painful sigh. She pushed Anna back and then grabbed the sides of her head once more. “I have to go.”

“No… please… let us help you.”

Her mother’s smile was serene. “His servant is very strong, Anna. I can feel her malevolence fighting to come forward again. I can only keep her at bay for a few hours, a day at the most.”

“But you’re stronger than her. You proved that tonight. You’re here now!”

Victoria shook her head. “No… you were stronger than her — not me. Her evil master has used the darkest magic to weaken my will against her. His curses put limits on my strength to hold her back. I have to go and get as far away as possible… for your sake.”

Anna was crying again. “But… I want to be with you. Perhaps if we stayed here, where magic is so weak, we can be together.”

Her mother smiled and reached out to hug her daughter again. “I would go through the Dark Lord’s tortures a hundred times again just to hold you in my arms like this every day, but already…” she pushed back again and her body waivered, “I can feel her strength growing.” She stepped back. “I must go to protect you.”

Victoria looked over to Anna’s friends. “Whoever you are… thank you both for protecting my daughter.”

Gwen stepped forward and smiled, but Victoria held up a hand to stop her.

“Tell me nothing about yourselves. Remember… if you tell me then you tell the other and put yourselves and your families at risk.” She looked at her daughter again. “Goodbye, Anna. You must leave this place as quickly as possible after I am gone.”

She hugged Anna again and finally turned and headed into the woods alone, a troubled soul searching for a place to stop trusting herself.

“Mother?”

Victoria Grayson turned to look back.

“I love you,” Anna moaned.

Her mother smiled. “Anna… you are and always will be the source of my remaining strength. Tell your father…” she shuddered in pain again, “I love you both so much.”

Anna wiped the tears from her eyes again. She blinked… and Victoria Grayson was suddenly gone. Anna sniffed and then turned to find Trog and Glors standing behind her.

“This one is speaking to the trees, she is,” Glors said to Trog scathingly. The great horned Ogre looked around at all the dead dragons and scowled. “She is the cause of this senseless destruction, she is.”

Trog could see the pain and sorrow Anna had suffered etched into her face. He came forward and Anna fell into his huge arms.

“Oh Trog, Glors is right… I led us right into a trap. This is my fault,” she sobbed.

“That’s crazy talk,” TJ said, sympathetically. “She dun’ no such thang.”

Gwen suddenly appeared holding Sarah Bell upright by one of her arms as they entered the clearing and Anna breathed a thankful sigh of relief at seeing her roommate. She came forward quickly to help Sarah to sit.

“I’m all right,” Sarah whispered back bravely.

Anna was sobbing again as she looked over Sarah’s shoulder and gasped. She ran over to find a young dragon lying on his side with his wings spread awkwardly across the ground.

“Taurus…” Anna whispered. She sat down next to the dragon and lifted his head onto her lap.

TJ was looking down at them. “Ya gotta be kiddin’ me? That’s dah same dragon that wuz in yer bathtub a few months ago? Geez… they grew their frogs big in these woods!”

Anna tried to smile as she soothed the dragon’s battered head. “Eric always said he’d try to find me.” She noticed something shiny under his wing and lifted it away to find a massive ruby glued to the front of his chest.

“That’s what saved me from the killing curse tonight.”

Anna reached down to pull the gem away from the green-colored spew holding it. She looked at it closely and then up to the moonlight to peer through its perfect surface. She was stunned to see hundreds of red eyes blinking and staring back at her from within.

“Oh my God,” she said in surprise, “It’s the Ruby of YU!” She looked down at Taurus again and found him half dazed looking up at her. The dragon let out a pain-filled whimper and then rose up to lick her face.

“Anna… are you okay?”

Anna could feel her mind beginning to slip away. The fierce battle and the lingering agony of being tortured were now extracting more than she could give to remain conscious.

“Anna?”

Gwen’s voice began to fade and Anna could no longer feel Taurus licking her hand before blackness took her completely.

FIVE

Forty miles away, the sound of several Crimson Guards yelling could be heard outside a locked door.

“Where is Lieutenant Dunning?”

“Sleeping in his quarters. What’s happening?”

“Wake him! NOW!”

Dunning immediately snatched up his wand from the table next to him.

BANG-BANG-BANG!

“Lieutenant! Lieutenant Dunning! Wake up, sir!”

Lumos! Alohomora!”

The lock on the door quickly clicked and the light from his wand brightened the room as several immediately guards stormed in. The Sergeant leading them whipped his wand over his head to light every candle in the room.

“Lieutenant! An emergency order has come down from the Chancellor’s office. Sir… we are in lockdown!”

“What! What’s happened?”

“We don’t know yet, sir, but the order came from Thordarson himself!”

Suddenly, the sound of heavy granite footsteps could be heard marching in the floors above them. Dunning looked at his men. “Good God… Piertotum Locomotor?”

“Yes, sir. The statues and armor are manning the walls as we speak!”

Dunning stood. “Where is the Chancellor now?”

“Upstairs, sir. I’ve sent a squad of guards up for his protection already.”

“Double that order, and send a runner as well. I want to know what the hell is going on!”

The guards turned to leave.

“Wait!”

The Sergeant looked back.

“What about the prisoner, Anna Grayson?”

The guard frowned and then looked back at the guards. “What about her, sir?”

“Is she still in the dungeon? Is she still in her cell?”

“Yes… of course. There was no order to have her released, and there’s been nothing unusual reported from the men guarding her.”

Dunning was strapping on his sword. “Check it. I want to know she’s still there!”

Ten minutes later, the Crimson Sergeant was unlocking the metal door to the inner dungeons. He stepped inside and found the three guards playing cards around a small table.

“On your feet!” The guards immediately stood and snapped to attention.

The Sergeant looked in to find Anna standing in the center of the cell still in her robes with her back to them.

“Report!” the Sergeant demanded.

“The night was uneventful, sir. As you can see, the prisoner has been in her cell all night.”

“Has she said anything, made any requests or demands?”

“No, sir… in fact…” the guard hesitated.

“Yes… what is it?”

“She’s been standing in that same spot all night long. She hasn’t moved a muscle or said a word, sir.”

The Sergeant frowned. “Hasn’t moved?” He looked at Anna standing in her cell again. She hadn’t even reacted to their entry into the dungeons. The man stepped in to look closer.

“Anna Grayson!”

The girl didn’t move.

“Miss Grayson… are you sleeping?” Still… the Guardian did not respond.

Finally, they heard a soft clicking sound and Anna’s head slowly began to turn. It kept turning, finally rotating all the way around to face backwards. Her eyes were bright orange.

“What… the… hell!” The Sergeant whispered.

Suddenly, Anna’s body started to shimmer and distort. It began to shrink and fall into the floor until the only thing sitting in the center of the cell was a small Scops Owl. The owl ruffled its feathers as if after a long night’s rest and then jumped into the air to land on the window sill. Hobbs looked back, clicked his beak at the guards again and then jumped out the window.

“Damn!”

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